Good, Thoughtful Hosts #111: Affordable Housing Part 2 with Randy Rhoads

In the second of our two-part series on affordable housing with Randy Rhoads, an architect and the Executive Director of Affordable Housing for Cushing Terrell, we’ll discuss the wide-ranging effects of having an affordable place to live. This creates a strong foundation on which to build — in both an individual and a community sense — that touches job opportunities, discretionary spending, fewer evictions, healthier populations, and improved government infrastructure.

But before you listen to Part 2, check out Part 1 of Sarah’s interview with Randy.

About Our Guest
Randy Rhoads has more than three decades of experience in the design of residential, commercial/retail, educational, and governmental/institutional projects. Over the course of his career, Randy has been the lead architect for more than 32 tax credit developments, overseeing the design and construction of over $1 billion in development costs; and has been responsible for leading the design of over 6,000 mixed-income, multi-family, and elderly apartment units in 14 cities across the United States. He is a member of the Congress for the New Urbanism and holds a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Kansas State University.

Episode #111 Transcript | Listen on SoundCloud

Sarah Steimer 00:07
If you think of life as a stool, imagine each leg is one of your basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing. Take away any one of those legs and the stool topples over, which underscores the importance of each of those three elements. I’m Sarah Steimer and on this episode of Good, Thoughtful Hosts, we’ll have the second in a two-part series on affordable housing. Today’s talk will focus on the wide-ranging effects of having an affordable place to live. In other words, once that particular leg of the stool is firmly in place, we’ll see how it allows you to build upon this strong foundation in both an individual and a community sense.

Producer 01:17
Today’s special guest

Randy Rhoads 01:19
Hi, I’m Randy Rhoads. And I’m the executive director of affordable housing for Cushing Terrell, my job is to work with communities all across the country to help create more affordable housing.

Sarah Steimer 01:32
Alright, well, Randy, first of all, thank you for joining us again. We had a great talk last time. So I’m excited to talk about affordable housing and everything that it affects today. So let’s let’s go ahead and dive right in. Before we, you know, got on this recording, you and I had a chance to chat a little bit about sort of all the things that affordable housing affects or having the opportunity to live in a place that you can afford. So let’s start with that. And sort of the snowball effect, especially as it relates to what we’ve been hearing in the news a lot lately, the labor shortage. So we might not necessarily think that there is a connection between these two things, affordable housing and labor shortage. But let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about the job opportunities that can arise when you can afford where you live.

Randy Rhoads 02:21
When I see articles, or hear news reports about labor shortages, and I look at the cities that those reports are coming from, consistently, I think the underlying issue really is an affordable housing shortage and our affordable housing crisis. And when businesses attempt to recruit people to these different cities across the country, and, and folks are considering that and they’re looking at what it’s going to cost for them to live there. I think unfortunately, in many situations, it’s just economically, completely unrealistic for them. And so businesses are really struggling with recruiting people, and actually really struggling with retaining people. Because as folks advance in their career, there might be opportunities for them to continue to stay there. They’re they’re stuck with limited housing options. So one of the key underlying things that that I hope leaders and cities understand is when they build and create and support more affordable housing, that creates more job opportunities. So it’s not just the job opportunities that happened during construction for the construction workers, and the developers and engineers, and architects and all those folks. But it’s also long-term property management, maintenance personnel, and then all the support businesses that it takes when these new affordable housing communities get built. So there’s a lot of economic sense for businesses and, and cities to really be supportive of affordable housing and create programs and procedures to help encourage and speed up the process so that we’re treating this, like the crisis that it is. And we’re behaving in a way that we recognize that this is really a structural, foundational, fundamental aspect of the type of society that we’d all like to live in.

Sarah Steimer 04:29
And I’m sure if there is affordable housing in different parts of the city where you can also access more jobs. That’s hugely helpful as well as far as helping to spur the economy, too. So so let’s also talk about the fact that you know, when you don’t have affordable housing when you have to put so much of your income toward the place that you’re living, that also wipes out your ability to spend elsewhere and wipes out some of that discretionary spending. And that’s obviously going to have a huge impact on the economy as well. And that’s something that honestly before you and I talked about it earlier, I hadn’t thought about the fact that, Yyah, your discretionary spending goes down. Like, I’ve thought about moving to more expensive cities myself, and I’ve kind of had to wrap my head around the fact that, oh, I might not be able to go out to dinner as much as I would like to because the cost of living changes as far as rent goes, so can you talk me through a little bit of how that changes and how that affects the economy, when you don’t have that ability to spend outside of the basics like housing like food.

Randy Rhoads 05:25
Saying what you said, it’ll look a little different way, you know, like, really, the most obvious economic benefit to affordable housing is the increase in discretionary spending. So this actually creates more money being spent in the local community, which boost the local economy. When folks are having to make decisions between paying rent and maybe getting fresh, healthy food, or potentially some medical procedure that they or somebody in their family needs. Those are decisions that drive families into very stressful and potentially very dangerous, and long-term chronic health, problematic issues. So the whole idea that you can afford your life, that starts with having a safe, healthy, clean place to live, the idea that folks can actually be a part of the economy, by being able to go purchase things, it’s going to make a big difference in that neighborhood. And it’s going to create by the folks, the renters, that are living in that affordable housing and going out and purchasing things, that’s gonna also help those other businesses make a profit, hire more people, keep their employees that they have. So this is this is kind of cross-affecting everything. That — just the fact that folks have some dollars that they can put back into the local economy is a key aspect of that health and economic health of that neighborhood.

Sarah Steimer 05:25
So you mentioned something like medical bills there. And I know that there are plenty of people who have had to choose between maybe spending on a medical procedure, whatever their bills may be, and paying rent. So now we’re getting into evictions, and how that can actually affect the economy as well. So talk a little bit about that how affordable housing can help to avoid things like evictions, and when you have those higher rates of evictions, what that sort of does to the local economy.

Randy Rhoads 07:43
The availability of affordable housing absolutely leads to fewer evictions, approximately 108 million Americans live in rental homes or apartments. And 25% of these renters spend more than half of their monthly income on rent. Evictions spark a cycle of instability for families. And this ripple effect rolls through the entire community: it starts to impact schools and hospitals, clinics with issues that are directly related to the fact that people are now out of their home and don’t have a safe, clean, healthy environment for themselves or their kids or seniors. And so keeping people in their homes, keeping people out of a situation where they’re getting evicted, is a huge benefit to cities. And it’s a kind of thing that, you know, during COVID, there was a lot of attention to when folks weren’t required to pay rent. And the thing to keep in mind about that is that the folks that owned those apartment buildings still had to make their mortgage payments and all those things. So the government, if it’s going to have circumstances, like with a pandemic, where it’s going to say, No, you don’t have to pay your rent, therefore you’re not getting evicted, there’s going to need to be some kind of support for those landlords and those property owners so that they can give the residents that kind of room to operate, while potentially they’re unemployed or limited on their income. And as a society, we just need to recognize that if those things happen again and come up that that support system needs to also make its way to the people that are responsible for operating, managing and maintaining those buildings and communities.

Sarah Steimer 09:43
So you you mentioned too, that this is an issue of if you evict families as well then they have to move about it causes all this instability in you know, their lives but also instability in how of the local economy winds up working. Can you talk a little bit more than about the importance of stability as it relates to a healthy population as it relates to a healthy economy, and keeping all of those things stable, because if you kind of turn something on its head over here, we’ve talked about this all throughout this chat today, it has this massive ripple effect that then turns other things on its head.

Randy Rhoads 10:25
Yeah, I’d say that just the big headline here is that a healthier population means a healthier economy. A person’s housing is a huge social determinant of their physical and mental well being. It’s really kind of the key of how that person is going to be able to fare in society, in their employment, and just in their dealing with their family, and just things that come up. So having that safe, stable home, is the center of that things that come up in low-income housing, that poorly constructed and poorly managed and maintained, can expose children, families and seniors to lead paint, water contamination, pest, and other environmental risks that lead to chronic health issues, which come in to the enormous and preventable costs to the residents themselves in the greater community. And it’s not just the buildings, making choices, like I said earlier between rent and healthy food, or health care, can lead to long-term chronic issues for the kids, the families and grandparents and others that will unfortunately stick with them for the rest of their lives. So this opportunity to help ground, especially our children’s that there’s, they have the opportunity to stay in school, and actually have that foundational start to their life, that gives them an opportunity to move up the social economic ladder, and be exposed to things that probably they wouldn’t be exposed to, and have the opportunity to live out their dreams and have aspirations and be healthy enough to enjoy those things.

Sarah Steimer 12:27
So we’ve talked a little bit too about the importance of that stability, the importance of the discretionary spending, so they can put money back into the economy. So we’ve sort of taken a look at maybe the more capitalism end of things, but this also has a huge effect on the government as well, the local government being able to pay taxes, being able to spend that sort of money. That seems like another massive important piece of this puzzle as well to be able to put that money back into how that government can then help with things like roads, etc.

Randy Rhoads 13:02
Exactly. Affordable housing creates improved government infrastructure. So with more residents able to pay taxes, a local government is able to provide more for the rest of its citizens. When you build 100 affordable rental homes that typically generates $11.7 million in local income, and then $2.2 million in taxes and other revenue for local government and 161 local jobs in that first year alone. So there’s this very clear economic impact to building and and having affordable rental in these neighborhoods. So at the end result of these transformative, larger scale, multi block neighborhood transformations. There’s new streets, new utilities, there’s green spaces like parks and playgrounds. And these new attractive, healthy assets for the city are something that they have forever. Now the city has to maintain that. But it takes typically a part of town or a neighborhood that that is underserved in underperforming and probably lacks the physical connectivity and safe green spaces and walkable streets that are well lit and all those things and creates that so you have something that liability in a city that gets turned into an asset. And that asset promotes health and well being and connectivity to not only to the residents that it’s specifically built for, that affordable housing neighborhood, but all the adjacent neighbors now have a safe, clean, healthy place to walk through, maybe come to those parks that weren’t there before. And it knits that neighborhood into the greater city, which is also a great benefit to having the residents at this affordable housing, housing neighborhood feel connected and actually be connected and be part of something because one of the things that I think is an underlying issue with low-income families in our country is they’re really cut off from the economic opportunity. And so when you, when you’re cut off, you don’t feel like you’re part of the system, you’ll feel like you’re part of what’s what’s happening, and then the growth. And so your ability to or your desire to participate and feel like you’re active, engaged, involved, citizen is diminished naturally, it just, you know, it’s understandable that that would be the outcome. So by having vital, vibrant, affordable neighborhoods, we’re actually giving our residents an opportunity to be part of the whole fabric of our country of our cities, these neighborhoods, and be active citizens.

Sarah Steimer 16:18
You know, you’re ending this on the exact thing that I wanted to bring up. I mean, it’s in this conversation, I think it’s so important to point out that when we talk about affordable housing, it’s not just about how it helps the people in those communities. It’s not just about them, it winds up being this much bigger picture where affordable housing makes a difference as far as job opportunities, which obviously affect everyone, makes a difference as far as discretionary spending, which is going to help the guy who owns a business down the street, probably, like you said, the the healthier populations, which obviously if you’ve got fewer people having to take time off of work, things like that. That’s helpful. It’s you know, we hear all these conversations about when affordable housing units go up in different neighborhoods, and you you wind up with that NIMBYism, maybe that not my backyard. It’s the thought process of this doesn’t just help the people living there. It helps the entire community. In the end, it really does have this, I know I keep using the phrase but this very big ripple effect.

Randy Rhoads 17:20
Yeah, it does. And I think that if more folks recognize that, really who we’re talking about here that would be living in affordable housing, are teachers, and nurses, and firemen and policemen and folks who work at the post office and folks that work at the coffee shop, and all the different aspects of what it takes for us to have the kind of neighborhood and society and world that we want. We have to encourage our political leaders to make the economic decision decisions, and the political decisions to support the programs and policies that emphasize and prioritize affordable housing, there’s a range or spectrum of affordable housing in terms of, of the income levels and all those different issues. But the bottom line is that cities across our country have to prioritize this immediately. Because it is a crisis. And it touches everyone’s life. And it touches every business. So the economics, the underlying economics of affordable housing affects us all.

Sarah Steimer 18:42
You can’t see it, but I’m doing a lot of nodding while you’re talking right now. And this is, you know, once again, you know, of course, when we talked previously about especially how it affects people’s health to have good places to live. And when I say good, I mean, stable, they’re well built, but also, you know, you don’t have any off gassing, etc. But then this conversation as well, it really underscores just how important it is to not have a safe, comfortable, healthy place to live. But also just to not have to be thinking all the time about the fact can I do this? Can I afford this? Can my family stay here, things like that. It really, it makes such a massive, massive difference. So Randy, thank you again for chatting with us about this topic. It’s obviously super important. And like I said, I was nodding all the way through I wish there was like a better way for me to explain to the listeners that I’m all in on this. But before we wrap up, was there anything else that you wanted to mention? I know we covered a lot of ground today.

Randy Rhoads 19:46
Well, just folks can reach out to me directly through our company website. And I’ll be happy to talk about any kind of situation where we can help to create more affordable housing. So great talking with you, Sarah, and please just any other opportunities for us to get together let’s do it.

Sarah Steimer 20:08
Absolutely I’m in.

Producer 20:17
Music for Good, Thoughtful Hosts was written, produced and performed by Sam Clapp. Our moderator is Sarah Steimer. Editing by Travis Estvold and a special thanks to our content development team, Amanda Herzberg and Marni Moore. For more information about the podcast, visit Thanks for listening.

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